If I have contributed anything useful to the deerstalking community, I would say it is the publicity I gave to calling muntjac in an article published in Stalking magazine. Many generations of muntjac have come and gone since that edition so, for the benefit of younger stalkers, I will give a brief summary of it.
I learned about calling muntjac from Lt. Col. Chapman’s book, The Jungle is Neutral. Freddie Chapman was an amazing character: naturalist, writer and soldier. His book is an account of his life in the Malayan jungle from the fall of Singapore to nearly the end of the War and describes many narrow escapes from the Japanese and from diseases he endured during his long sojourn in the jungle.
In his book, Chapman described how he hunted in the jungle and was sometimes accompanied by native tribesmen – the Sakai – and how they used a call made out of bamboo to call in ‘barking deer’. Chapman did not describe the call deployed by the Sakai and so I don’t know whether it was constructed from the leaves or the stem of the bamboo. As roe calls can be made from beech leaves or from suitably fashioned wood perhaps the Sakai used both. Chapman said the method was so effective he considered it unsporting.
After reading Chapman’s observations, I tried calling muntjac with my various roe calls and eventually settled on the doe reed of the Buttolo Universal (BU) roe call. This is the wider of the two reeds, which produces a call with a lower pitch than the kid call. I have used other calls, particularly the Buttolo balloon call. No doubt a handyman could fashion his own calls which would work just as well. After calling successfully, I publicised the practice in that article, which generated considerable interest. Since those now distant days calling these small deer has become a useful tactic for the muntjac stalker. As this practice usually has to be conducted in the woodland in which the muntjac live, they frequently come close to the caller and, in so doing, provide some magical encounters and dramatic shooting and photo opportunities.
As muntjac are small deer some say they are best stalked in the winter or spring. It’s not to be denied that muntjac can best be seen then, but I have a great fondness for stalking muntjac during the summer months. Reviewing my diary reminds me of some interesting calling incidents.
May 5: In the course of a morning’s roebuck stalking, I slipped into a plantation at a point that enabled me to overlook a grass ride adjacent to a pond. I used the BU to good effect as a muntjac buck soon appeared on to the ride and approached my position. He paused behind a tree in such a way that I was able to engage him with a heart shot at forty metres. His reaction was to jump in the pond and swim frantically three quarters of the way across, before turning and then disappearing in the reeds at the far end. Going forward, I found plenty of paint but no buck. I searched unsuccessfully until I spotted him lying on the bottom of the pond and extracted him using my shooting sticks as makeshift tongs.
May 26: I slipped into Twenty Wood and sat on a fallen tree trunk. I adjusted the sticks to enable me to use the likely lines of fire with minimum movement. Then, masking up, I began to call. I started with half a dozen squeaks and then paused. Nothing happened so I called again making a dozen squeaks this time. Another pause for five minutes and I repeated this. While calling this time, I glimpsed a movement in the reeds at one o’clock and subsequently the muntjac buck that made it. I covered him as he came up the slope. He was in range all the time but facing me and awkward for a shot. When too close for comfort, he stopped behind a tree and looked round it, as these deer often do, and gave me a view of enough neck for my 20-yard shot.
Later in the week, from a high seat, I clean missed a called doe concealed in long grass. I slapped my own wrist for this miss as, when I took the shot, I couldn’t see where I was aiming and used the line of the beast’s back to estimate the aim point. No beast, no paint or pins and nothing of interest to my dog – altogether an unsatisfactory incident.
June 12: In contrast, on this occasion I moved deer in the three locations I called. The woodland was cool under the canopy, inviting a leisurely work rate, with long pauses between calling efforts and after the last call. In Twenty Wood, a doe was seen as she approached from behind me but never presented for a shot. In the next stand, a roe doe approached me like a rocket and departed as fast. Assuming she had a kid in cover close by, I left her in peace – I believe a lot of calling is stressful for a roe doe with young.
My next stance was at one end of a wedge-shaped wood with just a few yards of visibility in front of my position. Not ideal, but the only place in this wood for the job. Making use of a tree stump as a seat, I started to call. A yearling muntjac doe in full summer coat responded, charging in and stopping at 10 yards before backing off. Throughout all this I didn’t move a muscle and, after some minutes, was rewarded by the doe circling cautiously in front of me with much ear flicking and suspicious staring. My hound Midge was much intrigued by this but stayed still.
While the muntjac passed behind a tree trunk, I swivelled my sticks and made ready for the shot I took at 30 yards as soon as the doe reappeared. A short run and she went down; when I approached her, the first bluebottles were buzzing over the carcase.
So those are just a few samples of summer stalking, totally different from that experienced at first light or on the hill hunting a stag. It’s a branch of the sport that requires no little patience and skill but can be rewarded by stunning close quarter encounters with muntjac and other deer, and by boosting the cull numbers in what is routinely regarded as low season.